We all know that confidence comes in waves. One morning you’re on top of the world, then imposter syndrome comes to bite you on the bum and makes your life a living hell.
While I expect that lack of confidence comes equally to everyone as adults, the Guide Association (Girlguiding) last year released the results of a poll of 1,627 girls and young women that shows a dramatic loss of confidence as girls get older. By the ages of 17–21 only 31% feel confident in themselves, while only 35% believe they have the same chance of succeeding in their careers as males.
This is backed up by a study in the journal Science that shows girls start to see themselves as less talented than boys by the age of six. This flows through education into their working lives, and the BBC website today notes:
Prof Andrei Cimpian, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website:
“The message that comes out of these data is that young kids are exposed to the cultural notion that genius is more likely a male than a female quality.
It’s disheartening to see these effects emerge so early. When you see them, you realise how much of an uphill battle it’s going to be.”
Self-belief slides as a girl grows older.
I see this every day. It may be a cultural thing, or not, but it’s terrifying. Confident children with the world at their feet end up settling for ‘good enough’ because their confidence has been knocked. And I’m not discounting men from this, or myself either, my life has been an uphill struggle with confidence – despite getting a bloody good degree and only taking one year out of self-guided learning and formal training since I left university.
We saw massive women’s marches this week, and while I admire them for their guts and determination, I do wonder how many of those women will go back to settling for ‘good enough’ once their placards are resigned to the recycling bin. Will their voices actually be heard?
Back to the 50s
In 1954 a book was published that makes my toes curl – How to help your husband get ahead: in his business and social life by Mrs Dale Carnegie (her name was Dorothy, by the way). While teaching in a business school Dorothy asked her students how many expected to marry within ten years (all of them) and whether they would choose marriage over a career (again, all of them). From this conversation her book was born, to sell girls on the idea that the qualities that would make them valuable to an employer would make them ‘desirable wives’. I bought the book as a reminder of how times have changed, but really, have they?
On face value the book is a relic of a bygone age, it’s all about promoting your husband and putting his needs first but, if you read deeper into it, I do believe (I have to believe) that she was trying to help those intelligent women who would inevitably slide into domesticity. I wonder how Dorothy felt when she saw all her smart business students admit to a career span of less than ten years?
She did have a few good ideas, though, that can be translated into something useful for our times. So let’s take those first steps towards success and use them for ourselves.
Success the Carnegie Way
Dorothy gave her readers four initial steps to success that actually still ring true … let’s just turn them into ways to help yourself rather than someone else:
- Decide where you are going and what you want out of life. Set up a goal and work towards it.
It’s all about objectives and confidently controlling your future. Get that business plan out. Plan your goals.
- When one goal is achieved, set up another; plan your future in five-year steps.
Was Dorothy the first one to think about five-year goals? I’m not sure but it works for some people, why not give it a try?
- Sell yourself on the value of enthusiasm. Think of what it has done for others and what it will do for you.
She’s right, if you’re not enthusiastic you’re going to get bogged down. Look at all those uber enthusiastic communication and business mavens out there – enthusiasm breeds confidence.
- Apply these six ways of developing enthusiasm:
- Learn everything you can about your job
- Have a goal and stick to it
- Give yourself a pep talk every day
- Think in terms of service
- Associate with enthusiastic people
- Act enthusiastic and you will become enthusiastic.
Seems ok to me. You may think number 4 seems pretty strange, but if you’re providing a service, as most freelancers are, think about the people you’re helping and how you go about giving them what they need. After all if you’re enthusiastic about what you’re providing, your customers or clients will feel that enthusiasm.
So we’ve survived the 1950s pep talk, and seen that it translates into the C21st, and it’s all very well to be enthusiastic, but will it actually help with your confidence?
Confidence is something built up over time and if it gets knocked it can take a while to reinstate, so here are some C21st creative confidence tricks:
- Fake it til you make it.
I’ve looked and I can’t find the origin of the saying, but it’s been around since at least the 1960s. It doesn’t work all the time, after all you need to have something solid to back it up (no matter how hard I try I just can’t fake being a tightrope walker so I’m not going to apply for any circus jobs soon). If you have the skills (or the skillz) fake the confidence, smile and eventually you should convince your old brain cells that the confidence is real.
- Try, try and try again.
Don’t let failure hold you back. Don’t let it get you down and knock what little confidence you have. Pick yourself back up and go back to 1.
- Ask for help.
Everyone needs help once in a while. Asking for help actually builds confidence – you’re on your first step to learning what you need to know.
- Watch other confident people.
Seriously. Look at those around you who are confident (not arrogant) and see how they behave and react to life. Are they doing something you can learn? It’s like being around people who are enthusiastic, it rubs off.
Ok, yes, I know. If you don’t breathe you are in trouble.
Joking aside, if you’re nervous you will have a habit of shallow breathing, which adds to anxiety. Concentrate on your breathing if you’re in a situation where your confidence is low and your anxiety levels are high. Steady, slow, deliberate breathing will help calm you down. It’s a great tip for when you have to do public speaking.
- Have faith in yourself.
This is the killer top tip. Confidence breeds confidence. Those people around you weren’t born with it. Everyone you see who looks confident has either come through low confidence and self-esteem or is still faking it. Seriously. Unless they’re a psychopath.
Men seem to be better at hiding it, that’s all (confidence, not being a psychopath).
While studies show that girls are in massive danger of losing their confidence as they become adults, we shouldn’t forget that men have confidence problems too. Women are still shown to suffer from work related bias (whether that be in the form of low promotion prospects, lower pay than their male counterparts or being constantly expected to make the tea), but men are still fed the ‘man up and be the breadwinner’ mentality.
Freelancers have the extra burden of needing confidence to survive as freelancers.
One day we’ll all be confident enough to say ‘this is me and this is what I can do’, until then we have to do what we can to survive.
So this is me – I’m a kick-ass editor and copywriter who can also design books for print or kindle. If you have a project contact me!